Join Steve on a ghostly trail
BE afraid. Be very afraid – you may have thought Stoke Park was just a rather pleasant stretch of parkland; a one-time aristocrats' playground on edge of the city, mutilated by the building of the M32, and since transferring to the ownership of Bristol City Council earlier this year – Bristol's newest public park.
But there is more going on in this historic landscape than first meets the eye.
It seems the dead chose this pleasant corner of the city, in the shadow of the Dower House, to walk the Earth for all eternity.
At least, that's what Steve England believes.
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As the self-appointed "ranger" of Stoke Park, the 46-year-old gardener is consumed by his passion for the area.
He fell in love with the park as a boy, and has been fixated with it ever since. After spending five years teaching himself geology, last year he set up fossil walks and – as an amateur naturalist – he also regularly takes families on dusk bat walks.
It was on these spooky evening rambles that he first had the idea of running ghost walks at the park.
Steve, who also writes a weekly column on Stoke Park for the Post, has spent months researching the area's ghostly goings-on, and will lead the first ghost walk tomorrow night.
For the moment, though, all of my fear is focused on Steve's driving, as we make our way up the grassy slopes of the park in his Land Rover.
"There is a lot of interest in the ghost walks – I already have a waiting list of 1,000 people wanting to join a ghost walk here," he tells me, as we scramble up an impossibly steep rise. before coming to a stop beside one of the park's historic monuments – the tomb of Elizabeth Somerset.
"She was the 17-year-old daughter of the fourth Duke of Beaufort," Steve explains, as he gazes up at the monument.
"She was out riding one spring day in 1760 – when her horse came through the bushes here, out of the woodland, and was spooked by a fox. It threw her to the ground, she landed awkwardly, broke her neck, and died. But her spirit haunts the park even to this day.
"People often hear the beating of horses' hooves in this woodland, although no horses have had access to the land for decades.
"I heard the hooves myself one day when I was walking in the woods, and I was so convinced they were real that I stepped aside to let the horse pass – but when I looked around there was nothing there. I was terrified."
It's not the only paranormal encounter that Steve has had in the park.
"On another occasion I saw the figure of a woman in 18th-century costume, holding a parasol," he says. "She walked towards me and evaporated as if she had walked straight through me.
"I think that was the spirit of Elizabeth."
Steve believes the park is also haunted by Elizabeth's father, Charles Somerset, the fourth Duke of Beaufort, who died in 1755 – another memorial, now lost in the woods, commemorates his life.
"I once met a paranormal investigator who had his picture taken next to the monument, only to find, when he looked closely at the picture, that there was a figure standing just over his shoulder. Now that's spooky."
â For more information on the free monthly ghost walks, visit Steve's Stoke Park Facebook page or to book, call 0117 963 9174.